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Alisha Trenalone Gives Us the Scoop on Painted Queen!

The Painted Queen (Amelia Peabody, #20)
by Elizabeth Peters, Joan Hess

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Alisha Trenalone‘s review

May 15, 2017
It was amazing
Read from May 10 to 15, 2017

 

I have been eagerly awaiting the final installment of the Amelia Peabody series ever since I heard that the late author Elizabeth Peters had one final book in the works. Thanks to the gracious folks who responded to my request at William Morrow/Harper Collins Publishers, I was able to get my hands on this advance reader’s edition, and you may be sure that I devoured it!

For those who may be coming to this book with no prior knowledge of the series, even though this book is #20, it fits chronologically about two-thirds of the way into the series and fills in a gap between previously published books. The Painted Queen will certainly be most meaningful to you if you have read the books that precede it, but I think it would stand up even if you came to it without that context.

That being said, here are my thoughts:

This is a stellar addition to the Amelia series. On page one, I admitted to myself some reservations. Joan Hess is the co-author for this work; I wondered, how would the collaboration flow? Would I really recognize my favorite characters? Would I be able to suspend disbelief and go along on their adventures with the same thrill I’ve gotten in many of Elizabeth Peters’ other works?

I realized by about page seven that the answer to all of those questions was YES! In fact, this book may actually mark the series’ peak of comedy, derring-do, and suspense. It’s very, very funny, and the action is tightly plotted without any slow bits.

I love the premise, which is absurd and therefore sits fair and square in Amelia’s world. Without any apology whatsoever, she OWNS the fact that her life is straight out of the most sensational of novels. She and her family of archaeologists are just beginning their latest venture in Egypt when a villain with a monocle bursts into her bath chamber, gasps “Murder!” and collapses in a dead heap on the floor moments before he would have strangled her. Naturally, she hoists herself out of the tub and begins going through his pockets. When she and her husband Emerson begin speculating about the presence of the monocle, she immediately informs him that it must be the insignia of a secret society, and that assassins sometimes travel in gangs.
“Assassins do not travel in gangs,” says Emerson.
(They are the perfect duo!)
This is the point at which I began to dissolve into fits of chuckling.

And that is just the beginning of an adventure that involves a whole parade of monocled men named after the great traitors of history. Also, you know the iconic treasure sitting in a museum in Berlin, the Nefertiti bust? The Emerson family is seamlessly inserted into that historical narrative. (I love the way Elizabeth Peters has always had them at or near the scene of great discoveries, but always in such a way that real history is left intact…they get their hands all over the story, but in the end they leave no trace!)
So, yes, the Nefertiti bust has been discovered, but then it vanishes, but then it reappears again…and again…and again…how many of them can there be? Amelia’s son Ramses and his best friend David traverse Cairo hunting down each new copy.
This keeps Ramses mostly away from Nefret, the Emerson family’s ward, now a grown woman with a tragedy in her past. Readers of The Falcon at the Portal and He Shall Thunder in the Sky know that since this new book is filling in that chronological gap, the relationship tension must be kept intact. It simmers ever so slightly below the surface.

I must mention one other big thing that I adored in this book….the appearances of the Emerson family’s perpetual nemesis (actually, at this point, “frenemy” is probably a more accurate description). Yes, it’s Sethos, or as Amelia likes to call him, the Master Criminal. His disguises and plots are ongoing joys of the series. When he shows up in The Painted Queen, it’s with greater panache than ever before. There are thundering hooves. There are dramatic interventions. It’s glorious. Those who know the rest of his story will revel in these moments.

So, in review, this book is everything I wanted the last Amelia Peabody novel to be. I’m sad that there won’t be any more of her adventures, but I’m happy that The Painted Queen is such a fitting swan song. I am totally elated to have read it, and you will be too. It goes on sale July 25!

***SO MANY THANKS to William Morrow/Harper Collins Publishers who provided me with this free advance copy in exchange for an honest review

Brent Butler’s Vine Review!

Thanks to Brent Butler for sending us his much appreciated (56/56!) review of Painted Queen!!!   Amelia’s Dear Readers rock on!
PS — A number of comments were just approved on the MPM official webpage after a blockade (caused by spamming)… they express much enthusiasm about Barbara Rosenblat’s role as official reader for our final Amelia volume….
Here’s Brent’s review:
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Elizabeth Peters in Egypt
56 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read “last of the series”, April 19, 2017
This review is from: The Painted Queen: An Amelia Peabody Novel of Suspense (Amelia Peabody Series) (Hardcover)
All Elizabeth Peters (Barbara Mertz) fans know that this was the Peabody mystery she had started, but not completed, when she passed away almost four years ago. A longtime friend and associate (Joan Hess) courageously took on the job of completing this work to give Amelia Peabody (et al) fans one last shot at the characters they’ve come to feel close to over the course of the last few decades.

Why do I call this courageous? Because Peters’ style had a rather unique quality, with braggadocio mixed with a deprecating humor in a way that just worked, and was quite unlike anything I’d personally read before. I didn’t think the style would be impossible for another writer to spread in to, but I considered that it could be very challenging.

A second aspect is that, for me at least, the underlying plots of the murder mysteries became secondary to the sense of family and the development of characters like Ramses and Nefret. The adventure of solving the crimes was at times part of the character development, and at times something I wanted to have done so that I’d find out what would happen in their personal stories. So yes, I got hooked into the soap opera element of the continuing series — hungry for the next news of Ramses and Nefret’s romance — anxious for the next contact with Sethos and what it would mean — wondering if Emerson’s brother and sister-in-law would ever come back in for a major contribution.

Why do I mention all this before I discuss “The Painted Queen”? Because the manner in which the character development and humor are presented are, to me, the hinge upon which the success of this novel rests as an integral entry in the Amelia Peabody series.

The result, I’ll report, is a bit mixed, but it weighs in much more on the positive side of the ledger. I find the characterizations to be true, and the elements of the plot live up to the series as written by Peters. Amelia’s “journals” provide the essence of her entertaining personality, if not always presented with the subtlety of Peters’ style.

“The Painted Queen” covers a “lost year” in the series, and one that came in the middle of a most important sequence of character development. It is set after “The Falcon at the Portal”, where Nefret marries someone other than Ramses in a mistaken rage at Ramses — and “He Shall Thunder in the Sky”, where Ramses and Nefret have a very rocky road to reconciliation. After having Ramses and Nefret present as a happy couple and competent motive force, I’m not sure how you mentally go back to a time before that, but then again Peters intended to fill in many of the missing years, and those include periods of time “pre-Ramses/Nefret”. This was the third book in that goal, after “Guardian of the Horizon” and “A River in the Sky”. Thus far I’ve read the series in publication order, so I have yet to “go back in time” to those books, meaning that “The Painted Queen” is my first experience of these missing years. However, it comes not long after I read the two novels which bookend it, which put me in a good position to evaluate it against the timeline.

Hess seems to get right into action more quickly and with a more rapid pace than I’ve been used to from Peters. Some might think that an improvement. I have come to enjoy the circumlocution which Peters frequently employed with both Amelia and Ramses, so I found delays before and during action to be a charming element of the color of these novels, and therefore the slight difference in Hess’ style was more noticeable for that reason. However, I don’t really consider this a criticism, just a difference, as had to happen in some ways when one author completes the work of another — especially in a series this long with such a well established style.

So while “The Painted Queen” doesn’t serve as a wrap-up to the series, as one might expect of a “last book”, it does give us a last experience with the characters we’ve come to enjoy and feel close to. It is certainly a solid offering. While some passages seem to lack the light touch of Peters, the overall tone is quite familiar and acceptable.

If you’re a fan of the Amelia Peabody series, you certainly won’t want to miss this last tribute to the characters and their marvelous author.

PQ Fan Review: Benjamin Phillips

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Dear Readers —

We are pleased to post the first “dear reader” review on Painted Queen, sent to us via Twitter DM …  thanks Benjamin!

“Returning unexpectedly and wonderfully, a new Amelia Peabody mystery is finally ours to enjoy. We are thrust back into history, into the winding alleys of the Khan el-Khalili, to the terrace at Shepheard’s, and down the Nile to Amarna. In this fond locale, where she and Emerson first fell in love, they fight old foes, fight several new foes, lecture about proper excavation techniques, hold councils of war, make us laugh, and leave us desperate for more stories that may never come. “The Painted Queen” allows Amelia’s beloved Reader to say goodbye, but never adieu, for as long as we have Egypt in our hearts and a whiskey and soda in hand, Amelia will live forever.” –Benjamin Phillips

Painted Queen Announcement!

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We are delighted to announce that HarperCollins has accepted a finished manuscript of The Painted Queen, started by Elizabeth Peters and completed by her dear friend and fellow mystery writer Joan Hess.  The publication date is expected to be July of 2017.  

Stay tuned for more details!

New MPM Manor Webpage Launched

Marking the third anniversary of our favorite author’s passing, MPM Manor unveiled the new official Barbara Mertz webpage on August 8, 2016.  Thank you to all the wonderful readers and fans who are helping her memory and her writings live on!

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Unexpected Character Development: MPM Cats 3 & 4 – Emerson (the peculiar) & Vicky (the homebody)

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When in the midst of writing one of her novels, Barbara often complained that her characters weren’t behaving at all the way she’d expected them to.  (She’s not the only writer we’ve heard making this complaint.)  It seemed that once she gave them life on the page, Barbara’s “people” developed minds and voices of their own, and refused to march along the lines she’d planned for them.  It’s possible that some writers make outlines, sit down, and then follow the imagined developments of plot and character as planned.  This was certainly not Barbara’s approach — although she always had voluminous notes in preparation for each book, and kept notes as she went along.  But often the notes would take the form of questions — “Why did [so-and-so] just do this?”  “What’s going to happen to [so-and-so]?”  … or, more ominously, something along the lines of “It’s getting boring, time to kill someone off!”   (Picture Will Farrell begging Emma Thompson for his life in “Stranger than Fiction,” a movie that made Barbara chuckle — particularly when watching Thompson’s struggles…)

How does this get us to her cats?  Well, as any cat owner can attest, cats are just as ornery as any fictional character.  And it turned out that Barbara’s cats could be just as unpredictable in terms of character development as the people in her books.  Take her cat Emerson, for example.  He began as a gregarious Maine Coon cat, happily scooting around her house along with his many feline siblings.  (The numbers could rise as high as 7, if you counted the mostly-outdoors Sethos.)  However, as he hit the equivalent of feline adolescence, he abruptly became reclusive and even paranoid.  Barbara had several theories about why this happened.  Her favorite theory was that Emerson’s paranoia began with his fear of a particular workman who was at the house doing repairs; this theory was bolstered by the fact that Emerson reappeared each afternoon at just about the time that workman left the house (even long after the work was finished).  Whatever the cause, Emerson became one of the most cowardly of cats — a far cry from the bold Radcliffe Emerson character for whom he’d been named!

Yet another unexpected cat character in Barbara’s household was Vicky — named, of course, for her dashing heroine Vicky Bliss.

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Vicky was one of two cats who arrived during Barbara’s final years, mostly because she wanted a few feline denizens who would actually hang out with her.  (Sethos and Emerson, for example, would sometimes disappear for long periods of time…)  Maybe it was unfair to expect Vicky to be both cozy and dashing — but she turned out to be, in Barbara’s words, one of the “most boring, unimaginative” cats she’d ever owned.  That didn’t mean that Vicky was any the less loved or pampered.  But it certainly made her name a bad fit!  Vicky could frequently be found simply looking ahead with a somewhat blank stare.  Was she thinking some dark and devious thought?  (If it were Barbara’s cat Gandalf, for example, it would be plausible to imagine him planning how to knock the canoptic jars in the bathroom down the stairs.)  Given that it was Vicky, who seemed to prefer things simple, probably not.  There was always something a bit Victorian (in the more conventional sense) about Vicky’s sedate approach to life.  Cozy, settled in her ways, known to slowly chase a ribbon (if dangled right in front of her nose) — but not too bright.

So much for an author’s attempt to control character development — whether in her books, or among her cats!  (And yet both kinds of characters, while they could be frustrating at times, yielded a great deal of pleasure in the end.)

 

MPM Writing Process 1: Scouting the Terrain

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Again in response to a very helpful suggestion from a “dear reader” of MPM’s, we are venturing into an exploration of the clues she left about her writing process.   Over the years, she kept various notebooks and loose notes tracking her projects, all of which we’re just beginning to unpack (literally and figuratively).  Eventually, this will all be archived (about which, more as we have information).

So we can start here with just a modest set of handwritten notes from a small three-ring notebook Barbara was carrying with her between 1962 and 1964 (with a few random notes from later years).  In this notebook she documented aspects of her family’s move to live in Rome for 2 years, as well as a trip she took to Egypt.  The loose-leaf pages contain her observations on many topics pertinent to her writings — intermingled with to-do lists, etc.,  and occasional brilliant artwork by her young kids.  (We are completely objective on this last point.)

Within this funny mix of mundane and writerly notes, it’s apparent that Barbara was always busy scouting various terrains for possible book topics and ideas.  As devoted readers of Peters and Michaels know, settings for the books ranged across time as well as all over the Middle East, Europe, and the U.S.  It probably would not surprise those readers that we found notes on English history peppered throughout a notebook where she tracked the costs of an outing to Pompeii and kept shopping lists.  Some of the notes detailed her ongoing and systematic search through a journal (Archaeologia– and remember, this was long before one could search online…).  For example, there’s a series of notes on heraldry:

“Archaeologia 1949: The Ghost or Shadow as a Charge in Heraldry.  Charge is blazoned “ombre” or “umbra” in Fr. + Latin. Tr. “ghost or phantom;” but by Engl. armorists it was misread shadow”…. (& these MPM notes go on for several pages-the underlining in these excerpts is hers)

More notes from the same journal track articles on “King John’s Baggage Train,” the “Body of Henry IV at Canterbury, lead perfectly preserved,”  and one from 1883 on “Decorations of H. VII’s chapel” that clearly delighted her imagination:

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“St. Wilgeforte (sic), In H. VII’s chapel, a young woman with long hair + turban and beard. … Was a famous image of her at St. Paul’s, + she was once a favorite.  A saint who had obtained a beard to escape matrimony, thus should have some sympathy for ladies who wished to escape from it.  Ladies who had husbands they wished to get rid of used to ask for her help, hence her popular name of St. Uncumber.  

(Ladies who wanted husbands paid their devotions to Rood of Northdoor at St. Paul’s — Paston Letters, 11, 23.)

Uncumber is mentioned by T. More.  She is offered oats — possibly because she provides a horse for an evil “housebonde” to ryde to the Devyll upon.  In Ger. she was called Kummerniss, St. Liberata in Portugal + France.”

A small triumphant notation states: “Checked Archaeologia 1890 – 1909“.   This was years before her book on The Murders of Richard III, but it seems as if Barbara was busily soaking up ideas from all over the historical sources she could access, as they engaged her interest and imagination.  She would later explain that: “The research skills I learned can be applied to any field; I have used them to collect background material for novels that deal with the Peasants’ Revolt, Etruscan archaeology, vintage clothing, the Risorgimento, the chartist movement, and innumerable other subjects. Accuracy is very important to me as a novelist; not only does my own professional pride demand it, but I have many readers whose expertise in various fields is at least as great as my own. They can and do chastise me when I make mistakes.”  (Yikes!  Daunting!)

Whether to avoid mistakes or just to pick up ideas, she was clearly scouting many possible terrains for her novels from very early on.  Canadian comics artist Kate Beaton seems to engage in a very similar process, investigating all sorts of historical sources to come up with ideas for her hilarious send-offs of people and events from long ago.  For Barbara, going to original sources and places as much as she could, steeping herself in the little details of different lives:  all this became a rich and fertile background from which more full-blown characters and plot lines would eventually emerge — sometimes surfacing as a (seemingly) throw-away line that made dialogue feel richer, other times forming a major backbone for particular plot arcs.  In the meantime, it’s apparent she was also having a lot of fun!

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Discovery, Books, and Egypt

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Hi all, we are getting some updates on the “Discovery Sale” being held online only, alongside the Gallery Auction at Cooper’s this week.  Items from both events are being displayed simultaneously, although the “Discovery” items are being sold separately (with lower-ticket stuff, it seems).

This is most definitely more Barbara’s than our kind of setting and interest, so we will just highlight the BOOKS!  (Always a shared interest!) and Egyptian things that wound up in “Discovery” — but there are also some other assorted items (all marked as being Barbara’s).

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BOOKS!  … on EgyptSherlock Holmes & other detectives; novels from Edgar Rice Burroughs to a set of Mark Twain (a favorite author of both Barbara’s and her father’s); books on architecture & art, old-fashioned readings (Baroness Orczy, Rafael Sabatini, John Buchan, George MacDonald); books Barbara enjoyed since when she was younger (LM Montgomery, Alcott, Wren); more of the latter with some extra favorites thrown in (like Aiken and Farjeon); a mix of some of the above that adds in Noel Streatfield and E.Nesbit, among others; some L.Frank Baum;  mysteries ….  and, for the “Another Shirt Ruined” crew — H.Rider Haggard, along with “Sons of the Sheik” (really?) and some of her well-worn T.H. White & Elizabeth Goudge.   Within those covers, many feasts.

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Besides books on Egypt, there are Egypt-themed figures and framed prints and toys (fun to look at, for those who share Barbara’s sense of the frivolous).

Oh, and of course, there has to be …. a cat.

For fans in the Baltimore area….

… and people who, like Barbara, are into antiques….  (unlike some (not all!) of Barbara’s progeny, for whom being dragged to antique shows ranked lower than going to the dentist).

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There are going to be several events coming up in the Baltimore-Frederick area in the next couple of months that will feature some items from Barbara’s estate.  One part of this effort will involve bundling part of Barbara’s (incredibly massive) book collection into themed parcels .. including, for those of you following recent exchanges about this on Facebook’s “Another Shirt Ruined” group — her H. Rider Haggard collection! (Be forewarned, Barbara used her books with gusto — they were there to be read, not looked at!  She boasted that as a child, her father teased her that he never knew what food items might show up in a book she was reading….) (Chocolate ones preferred, of course.)   Some of this will be cataloged online, while some will just be up for viewing at the event sites.

We mention this in case you’d like to see things from the grand to the little and silly from Barbara’s life.  (To be clear, this is about sharing the fun, not urging anyone to buy anything…. there will be plenty of collector-types, just like Barbara, to do that!)   You can eyeball some things online — but the actual display in the galleries may be fun to browse in person if you’re in the area (and it’s free to go see it!).

SO, the first event is at Alex Cooper’s galleries in Towson, Maryland, on April 7 and 9.  The official catalog features the big items — but there should also be some smaller, Egypt-themed silly stuff on display.  (Barbara prided herself on never losing a child-like sense of humor and fun, so she delighted in kids’ toys and collected Lord-of-the-Rings stuff of all kinds….)  Not sure yet about the books, but will update as we can.  And oh, all right, yes, there’s some furniture (yawn)(sorry, still can’t get excited about it!).

The Cooper’s brochure gives a few more details, and there are online pictures of some stuff, including that great carousel horse (the only ride she really enjoyed at amusement parks — but she would ride that one numerous times, chortling as she went!) — and of course there has to be a woman with a cat!

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